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Moseley-Braun Tangles Anew with Helms

August 5, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The way Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun relates the story, Sen. Jesse Helms entered the Senate elevator, saw her, and began singing, ″I wish I was in the land of cotton ...″

Helms, R-N.C., recalled his brief encounter with the Senate’s only black differently and described it as ″a good-natured exchange,″ an aide said.

Moseley-Braun told the story at the National Urban League annual dinner Wednesday night, about two weeks after another tangle with Helms in which she trounced his move to renew a patent on the Confederate flag insignia.

It happened Tuesday, she said. When Helms stepped into the elevator, ″he saw me standing there, and he started to sing, ‘I wish I was in the land of cotton ...’ And he looked at Senator Hatch and said, ‘I’m going to make her cry. I’m going to sing ‘Dixie’ until she cries.′

″And I looked at him and said, ‘Senator Helms, your singing would make me cry if you sang ’Rock of Ages,‴ said Moseley-Braun, D-Ill.

The crowd responded with whoops and cheers, according to The Washington Post.

Moseley-Braun’s press secretary, Lynnette Moten, who attended the dinner and heard the speech, confirmed the Post’s account of her speech. Asked Thursday for further comment on the exchange, Moten said the senator would not have more to say about it.

″She relayed a story,″ Moten said. ″It displays something about her, something about him and it speaks for itself.″

Helms’ press aide Eric Lundgren said, ″I’m not sure that report’s entirely correct,″ referring to Moseley-Braun’s recollection of the exchange. But Lundgren would not say specifically how Helms’ recollection differed.

″It was a good-natured exchange,″ he said. ″They all got a good chuckle out of it.″ He said that ″when Helms returned to the office (after the exchange) and told us the story, he laughed and said, ’Well, I guess she got me back.‴

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was also in the elevator and heard the exchange. ″They were kidding each other. It wasn’t mean,″ said Paul Smith, Hatch’s press secretary. ″It was all in fun,″ he said.

The aide acknowledged that singing ″Dixie″ to a black person could be considered offensive, ″unless you know Helms.″

Moseley-Braun had told the dinner audience that Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., also had been in the elevator. But Conrad’s spokesman, Scott Sloat, said she must have mistaken someone else for Conrad because the senator said he did not witness the exchange.

Last month, Moseley-Braun successfully led a fight on the Senate floor to defeat an amendment to renew the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s patent on the Confederate flag insignia.

″The point is, for those of us who are African-American, honoring our ancestors meant that we would not renew the design patent for the Confederate flag,″ she told the dinner audience. A ″fundamental right,″ she said, is ″freedom from insult. It is that freedom that I stood up for on the Senate floor.″

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